Solar Electric Cooking

barn solar panels
More solar panels coming!

Summer of 2017 wasn’t much of a summer for us really. Cool most of the time. Very wet and that makes for a very buggy season. Didn’t have much of a garden this year. Pretty busy with the projects on the house so not much time for anything else. Our lead acid batteries were failing fast and we had no way to equalize them and bring them back. I saw many YouTube videos on how to do that, but being off the grid, we had no power source to use to do the process. Finally we were able to purchase two Battle Born LiFePO4 deep cycle batteries. They are lithium iron phosphate batteries. With just TWO, we are able to run our whole house (granted our house is not the norm) with computers on all day with no generator. I was so happy not to hear the generator fired up every morning. Because that is what we had to do once the old lead acid batteries started failing and were not be able to hold a charge.

electric lawnmower
Our electric lawnmower

I will write more about these particular batteries in a future post. But for now, I want to just say they were worth every penny. Not having used the generator since the day they were hooked up has saved us close to $100. a month in gasoline. My husband mows our lawn with an electric lawn mower so no gasoline bought for that either. Now the only thing will be the chainsaw. Hopefully in the future, we will be buying an electric one for that also. Eliminating fuels is our top priority. Next one……..propane!

Solar Electric Cooking
Solar Electric Cooking

How to get rid of propane for cooking? Especially in the summer? We could cook on an outside fire and we did. Not as often as I’d like though. Now with more batteries and more solar panels, which are not all hooked up yet, we can use electrical cooking appliances. Not a big electric stove, but I am using an Instant Pot. Has been working great when we are charging from the sun. Actually I like it much better than the solar oven. The solar oven is awkward to set up. Carry outside and then keep moving it around. My thought on that is something I have seen online, setting up the solar oven in your kitchen, but so it is powered directly by the sun. You access it completely in your kitchen! Yes, that would work great for me. Would take a bit of remodeling in the kitchen to do it, but it could be done.

Cooking in the Dutch oven
Cooking in the Dutch oven

As we get ready for winter here, I will be using the wood stoves for most of the cooking. I don’t mind doing that since the firewood is burning for heat anyway. By next summer though, I figure we will have added more batteries and that will increase our cooking capabilities with electrical appliances. I have a brand new induction burner waiting to be experienced with. If we can use that, then I know we can get rid of the propane. It is just the oven in the summer that would be a problem. Just learning new ways of cooking foods that usually were cooked in the oven. I enjoy this new learning curve!

katlupe

Text and Photographs Copyright © Kathleen G. Lupole 2017

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Batteries, The Heart Of A System

2 Volt Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries
2 Volt Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries

The most important part of any off the grid energy system is the battery bank. The energy (or power) comes from the sun (hydro, or wind, or wind and sun both, as in my case) through the solar panels or wind turbine then goes through the charge controller and then into the battery bank. The charge controller does just what the name says, it controls the charge going into your batteries so they do not over charge. If the batteries are already at full charge, our charge controller, which has a diversion load on it, that means it diverts the power to another element. This charge controller has heating coils on it so the extra power goes to that. Eventually it will be hooked up to the water heater and the extra power will heat our water. At present our water is not piped in the house yet. Hopefully that will be done soon. Our plan is to have water collectors on the roof of the house as well as the electric water heater in the cellar.

Solar Baby House 1999
Our house in 1999

Back in 1999 when we moved here lead acid batteries were the best option for off the grid home set up. We started out with two and added two more later, even though the experts say not to do that. They say it will cause your batteries to have a short life. Contrary to that advice, our batteries were great. Never had a problem with them and when we replaced them years later, they were still usable. We gave them to friends of ours who used them for their golf cart on their homestead. Those lead acid deep cycle batteries were 6 volt, which were sold for fork lift trucks at my husband’s place of employment at the time. So we got a good deal on them with his employee discount. I am sorry I don’t have any photos of those batteries but at that time I did not have my digital camera and I couldn’t afford to buy film then. Those were tough times getting started here.

24 :Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries
24 :Lead Acid Deep Cycle Batteries

A few years later my husband designed a website and I listed products for a friend, who was a solar installer. He paid us in giving us 24 lead acid 2 volt batteries that he was given by a customer who was switching over to being grid tied (connected to the electric company grid with no battery bank). These batteries were very clean. The plates had no build up on them at all. They originally had been used by the railroad and then the homeowner, of course. So we were the third owners of them and they worked flawlessly for over ten years.

Charge Controllers and Meter
Charge Controllers and Meter

It was just in this last year they started not holding the charge very well. They still didn’t look dirty inside, but they could have been. They needed to be equalized and we had no way to do that process. By putting each battery on an automotive battery charger and letting it trickle charge (very slowly charged) for a couple of days or however long it takes till they reach full charge. Then let it sit for a couple of hours with no load on it. After that it needs to be tested with a hydrometer. I imagine they can be sold to someone who is on the grid and has the power to do that. We could not carry out that process here.

Lead Acid Deep Cycle Battery
Lead Acid Deep Cycle Battery

When these batteries were charged, I would hear them bubbling all through the afternoon and night. That bubbling is what cleans the plates as it chips away at the sediment on the plates. Eventually the sediment will settle on the bottom of the battery and build up over the years. Someone can empty the battery out and clean the inside by hand. Then refill and charge. It is a lot of work, especially for 24 batteries, but can be done. We just couldn’t do it here, or knowing my husband, he’d have done it.

Solar Baby Generator
Our old generator

Since the batteries are the heart of our system, keeping them clean and filled with distilled water was essential battery care. Testing them, dusting them off and paying attention to them was important to keep our system running. These batteries served us well. I am proud to say we never abused them or misused them at any time. My husband is very critical of every element of our alternative energy system, especially including the battery bank. About a month ago we replaced those 24 lead acid batteries with 2 LifePo4 batteries from Battle Born Batteries. We were using our generator daily due to the batteries not holding the charge any longer. Using the generator is the last thing you want to be doing! I will be writing more about these batteries in a future post as I learn more about them. We plan on adding to the battery bank with more of these new batteries. The nice thing about them is you can add to them one by one if you need to. Yes, two of these batteries have replaced our 24 lead acid ones! If you are curious about how that works, keep an eye on this blog because I will be telling you about it soon.

 

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 201
7 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.